The Maple Mantras


For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton.

The Maple Mantras

Juck Jackson

the greatest living Canadian poet

came to our village

as part of his mission

to use his reputation

to close down fission plants

everywhere in the world 

he wanted world peace

he dreamed of golden sunsets 

unlike the ones we now had 

of mustard smeared ketchup 

suns sinking down in shame

as he said in one of his poems

in his collection ‘The Maple Mantras’

that had won more prizes

than you could wrap around a strip pole

Booker, Griffin, Governor General

Lambda, Nobel

 

Juck Jackson

the greatest living Canadian poet

arrived on a rainy day

he refused to step into the rain

lest the chemicals it has absorbed

for the fission plant

sullied his skin

as he wrote

the rain is the carrier

of progress’s pernicious poison

 

when he appeared to the public

the following day exactly at 12:15

he was wearing

the golden hazmat suit embroidered 

with red gulls and beaded maple leaves

his shimmered like an apparition

in the relentless afternoon sun

from one of his pockets

he took an actual maple leaf

he held it over his head

this is not a maple leaf’

he declared

‘this is our nation

 

I was shaken to my core

the use of image and language

changed how I saw the world

how I saw myself

 

‘when ever you see

a mottled maple leaf

when ever you see the moose

you will be not be seeing 

a leaf or a moose

you will be seeing yourself

these are Gaia mirrors of your soul

 

I looked around me

at the crowd filled stadium

these were longer people to me

familiar faces ceased to be memory 

they became chains

to hold me here

that kept me from

flying on the wind like a leaf

it was then I decided

it was time to leave my village 

to leave the island of isolation

 

in the dark of a strip club

I cornered Juck Jackson

freed him from his hazmat suit

to thank him for the revelation 

of his maple mantras

‘yes fly young man’

he said once he had confirmed 

by touch that I was a man

‘you can find a way

but I cannot help you

my funds are limited 

I only have a tiny apartment 

in the big city

too many people want 

what I cannot afford to give

I hope you have purchased 

a copy of my Maple Mantras

for an extra $5 I will autograph 

it with my blood’

 

I left him there

feeling his hands

still on my body

his kisses on my lips

knowing they were the taste

of the future

There is no Juck Jackson ‘any resemblance to any person, poet living or dead is not intended or should be inferred’ 🙂 But he does represent an archetype. The name is unreal as well but I wanted something sounded ultra-Canadian yet slightly pretentious – I think Juck does that, it sounds like Jack & joke at the same time. 

Growing up in the east coast I don’t think we were ever visited by a great Canadian poet though. If we were they confined themselves to higher academies of learning than high school. We did get visits by Don Gillies – who would choreograph Rotary shows. (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0319174/) Though when I attended some writer’s workshops at UNB I did get to meet some literary stars, the most notable being Alden Nowlan. 

His mission to create change via his reputation is real enough as so many ‘noted’ writer, movie stars, use their fame to bring attention to noble causes. I’m commenting sardonically about the real lack of power poets have regardless of their awards. Awards that rarely result in profit, but maybe the opportunity to teach courses in creativity. The poetry quotes are fiction but reflect a type of Canadian many find worthy of awards. I love his hazmat dash of glamour.

Juck’s visit to the village is chance to sell more of his books while protesting the fission plant. Like my hero my decision to leave was based on freeing myself from my growing isolation in Cape Breton. My example was more of other’s who had left to pursue opportunity, to capitalize on their village success. I’m thinking of a man who won a play festival, went to Toronto & sort of vanished. I did run into him & he was plugging away in the theatre scene & living in a tiny apartment. 

 

Nearly every work of fiction I have read about writers visiting small towns had included their sexual dalliances with locals – cis-hetero conquerers so I had to have Juck get lucky with my hero but I wanted to keep than within the odd naive point of view of my hero. A hero, like me, knowing that kisses were the taste of a future worth pursuing.

 

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Cleansing of the Pudding

For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton. Check the Village Stories page http://wp.me/P1RtxU-1fT for links previous pieces in this series.

Cleansing of the Pudding

of all the celebrations in my village

the one I enjoyed the most

was the cleansing of the pudding

it fell on the first Monday

after the feast of St Bartholomew

only if there was a new moon on that Monday

 

as a result it didn’t happen very often

once every five or six years

unlike the other festivals in our county

that occurred with such regularity

I lost my sense of wonder and awe

bored by what was going to happen

when we wore red and silver to

the monotonous Memorial to Moose Gutting

or to the tedious

Shiver of Scale Shaving Market Days

 

the cleansing of the pudding

was unlike all the others

no costumes were called for

no one had to don a creaking moose hide

or dance

in the twirling tumble of cascading smelt

though here was the obligatory

casting of the moose bones

which I later found out

were not moose at all but

squirrel ribs

there were two songs to be sung

as the pudding was cleansed

the first was an homage to

she who danced the first pudding

and the other was to the law of light

that explained

why it was illegal to have lights on after dark

the words were in an obscure dialect

so I was never sure just what we were singing

but the whole village would to join hands

and sing in the town square

around the sacred poles

that were kept in the darkened strip joints

this was the only time

they were brought into the daylight

for all to see and wonder at

we would sing the songs

moving in and out around the poles

the poles would glisten with moose fat

 

once the bishop had taken

them back to the strip bars

we choir boys would sing

the first song again and again

till all the poles

had been reunited with their sacred dancers

and thus the pudding was cleansed

There was a fairly large Jewish population in my hometown, Sydney. All through school I envied the number of holidays that would get them a day off school. These special days were none of the inspirations for the many ceremonial events in Village Stories. My Dad was a Mason which has its own set of rituals and mysterious hand signals.

 

In Village Stories I wanted to develop my own set of idols – the moose – and ceremonies. The natural of light & dark is played with as I developed some of these seemingly random elements. Strip bars as places of worship easily led to the poles as representations of May poles. Logical to me anyway.

 


Past pieces explore the sacred strips bars – not that there were any at that time but there were places adults went that children we not allowed – that secrecy became tantalizing. Re-reading this piece & editing it some deepens the mystery of where these images came from within me.

In much of the specfic I have been reading lately there were/are many stories building new worlds that are ruled by various systems of magic & ritual – the sort of ceremonial things that go back to the Druids – our search for a way on connecting with the mystic. Cape Breton has deep Celtic roots and it’s clear to me that that also drew me to creating my systems of connecting to the mystic – though I am more a surrealist mystic than a realist.

What is the pudding?

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Photos of the War

sample rough draft sample

Photos of the War

 

my older brothers prepared for war

by learning the intricacies of languages

and lingerie of foreign places

no one explained what they fought for

I was told the children in our village

didn’t need to know till they were older

I didn’t think my brothers were so old

they were still learning to shave and swear

 

there was talk of death

that I didn’t quite understand

death was a place from where people never returned

in the cathedral the bishop

called it the long sleep of righteousness

I wanted my brothers to be awake

so I could watch them gut the moose

so they could show me

how to get more than shoulders touched

in the strip bars

 

but they were determined to go to war

all the young men in the village

were hungry for danger

some so hungry

they started in on each other

tore each other’s flesh

ripped clothes to such shreds

even the women couldn’t repair them

these bruised men would roam

the Whistling Wood naked

chant loudly while the choir practiced

 

I didn’t understand war

but the hungry men in the woods

would haunt my sleep

their bruised naked bodies

danced erratically around a fire

private parts painted by flames

I wanted to join in their howling

but I was too young

I was still playing with boys

learning how to howl and dance naked

smeared with smelt guts and birch bark

we started our own boys’ army

by stomping on ants

 

my brothers went to war

they emailed short notes every day

“marched to Majorca”

“wet dirty sox”

“send powdered moose milk”

they sent photos of themselves

bright lights in the background

tall buildings that reached the clouds

in one of them by an airplane

they glared at us in defiance

pointed their guns at the camera

then one of them naked on a lawn

their bodies bandaged unrecognizable

these weren’t my brothers

they didn’t look human

as cracked grins of satisfaction

played across what remained of their faces

war after the war

Here’s another of the mythology series. I rarely write directly ‘political’ stuff because I’m more of a story teller than a social commentator. Lapsing into didacticism or hectoring is too easy and drowns all, to me, any real emotional response other than self-righteous anger.

The voice of Mythology is of this innocent boy and I try to see real world events though the eyes of someone without an adult knowledge base. War is one of those things that even adults find hard to fully grasp. War and death.

shoes shoes to be filled after the war

Here I work with elements of the mythos I’ve built into this island world – the moose, strip bars, the Whistling Woods – introduced some modern elements as well – i.e. email. With a gentle hint of sexuality – private parts painted by flame – I develop this voice and this place into, what I hope, is a real comment on how war affects the rush to manhood, soldiers, the ones left behind.

rubble bombed out

There is no actual war in my mind – all wars are the same (the struggle to support the US economy – but I didn’t go into that cynical aspect here). I’ve seen these photographs though. Some were of my Dad in uniform when he fought in WW II. Others from a Viet Nam documentary. Or maybe from the movies, because many of our fondest memories are really from the movies not from our real life.

soon

August 28-31 – attending – FanExpo Canada http://www.fanexpocanada.com expo spider atingle at expo 2014

October 19 – feature – Cabaret Noir – Welcome to Lake Pinebow pineocthttps://www.facebook.com/events/1651892755035275/

 

tree02 lost in the Whistling Woods